Calgary Herald

Family key to help troubled youth


Family discord can push young people into crisis, but local agencies are learning families are often part of the solution as well.

The United Way of Calgary is promoting research into using so-called “natural supports” — parents, relatives or other role models — as a way of better helping vulnerable youths. Workers from agencies throughout the Calgary area attended a United Way conference on Thursday aimed at finding ways to strengthen the natural supports for the young people they work with.

The shift isn’t about eliminatin­g the involvemen­t of profession­al helpers, but instead redefining their roles.

“I used to think families were the problem, something to protect youth from,” said Kim Wirth, manager of prevention and outreach at The Alex, a community health centre and one of three local agencies participat­ing in research funded by the United Way. “I rarely saw families as part of the solution.”

Wirth said The Alex has been successful in helping many homeless youths transition into stable lives, but the status quo approach wasn’t stemming the influx of clients at its door.

Wirth said she came to realize that working with a young person’s family to repair fractured relationsh­ips offers a better chance of preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place.

“We needed to shut the front door. We started to see families as the part of the solution,” she said.

For many, returning young people to families they either ran away from or were taken from by authoritie­s seemed counterint­uitive.

However, the United Way’s Jill Wyatt said repairing family bonds — when it’s appropriat­e — can help guide young people into adulthood, when they’re no longer able to seek help from the child welfare system.

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